Local politicians were “blindsided” by the announcement, said Ward 1 Ald. Sue-Ellen Merritt. “I feel like a fool,” said Merritt at Monday’s council meeting. “We don’t know anything about it ahead of time until it’s approved. The way the province is dealing with this is not OK.”
by Amanda Street, Niagara This Week
A wind turbine project approved under a provincial energy program is causing a stir in West Lincoln. With opposition to a five-turbine wind farm strong, news of a 230-MegaWatt wind project is causing outrage in the community.
“9-11 is upon us and the tsunami is rolling in,” said Cam Pritchard, spokesperson for West Lincoln Wind Action Group, a growing group opposed to a five-turbine project slated for Caistor Centre by Vineland Power Generation and IPC Energy. The group is set to amalgamate with the Glanbrook Wind Action Group which would greatly increase its membership, giving members a larger voice. “It’s bad. Bad for all of West Lincoln, bad for the whole area.”
The project was announced, along with 39 others, Thursday by the Ontario Power Authority, the organization governing the Ontario government’s Feed-in-Tariff program which guarantees a set rate of return to green energy providers. The program guarantees providers a set rate for a 20-year period.
The applicant is Niagara Region Wind Corporation, a partnership between Renewable Energy Business (REB) Ltd. and Daniels Property Acquisition Corporation. The Toronto-based corporation is focused on the development of renewable energy projects in Canada and is committed to investing in local communities. This 230-MW project represents $600 million in investment and will be one of the largest wind power projects in Canada, says a press release.
While Smithville is listed as the project location on the OPA’s website, the project will span beyond the borders of West Lincoln said a spokesperson for NRWC.
“Smithville is the general location of the project,” said Randi Rahamim. “Obviously, a project of this size will span across a number of properties in Niagara not just in Smithville.”
NRWC has already obtained leases on a number of properties in the Smithville and surrounding area, said Rahamim, noting the company has been working on the project for a number of years.
“We have been working with land owners and farmers and neighbours for a very long period of time,” she said. “We are in constant contact with them and we do have landowners in an agreement.”
Though the project was approved under the FIT program a number of steps still need to be taken, including a public process. NRWC is pursuing regulatory approvals in order to move the project forward, this includes completion of Ontario’s Renewable Energy Approvals Process which came into effect in 2009. Once the approvals process is complete, NRWC will move into construction which will take about two years, said Rahamim. At that time it will be determined how many turbines will be erected and where.
The province’s approval process requires a minimum of two public consultation meetings as well as requiring the applicants to consult with the municipality on matters related to servicing and infrastructure.
“At an initial open house we will have a draft layout of the project,” said Rahamim, noting the public consultation process would likely begin in the next few months. “After the approvals process we will be able to more narrowly define where the turbines will be.”
Pritchard fears the scale of the proposed project will change the face of the community he calls home. He estimates, with the amount of power projected, that anywhere from 50 to 115 turbines will be erected in West Lincoln. He said the outcome of this project moving forward will be “disastrous.”
“Turbines will now go right across West Lincoln,” said Pritchard, noting concern in the community is likely to grow as the issue is no long segregated to the community of Caistor Centre. “We are all going to be effected by this.”
Local politicians were “blindsided” by the announcement, said Ward 1 Ald. Sue-Ellen Merritt.
“I feel like a fool,” said Merritt at Monday’s council meeting. “We don’t know anything about it ahead of time until it’s approved. The way the province is dealing with this is not OK.”
Merritt said she has received several calls from residents concerned about the project, including a senior resident who was in tears over news that her property value could plummet. “It’s very hard to see the emotion this brings out. This is something the township will have to live with for years to come and I don’t know what the solution is. There is not a whole lot we can do.”
Following the announcement of 40 new renewable energy projects, Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP, and leader of the opposition, Tim Hudak called for a moratorium on all industrial wind farms until municipalities and residents voice their opinions on whether or not they want turbines in their community. Thursday’s announcement came two weeks after Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty put a moratorium on all offshore wind projects until further health studies were completed.
“Dalton McGuinty put the concerns of fish and birds ahead of Ontario families when he backtracked on his offshore industrial wind farms,” said Hudak. “He needs to put a moratorium on all these industrial wind farms until communities and local families can have their day.”
Asked why Smithvillle was selected as the location for a project of this scale, Rahamim said access to transmission stations and strong wind resources make the Niagara escarpment a suitable place for wind energy generation. “We have been studying the resources in the area,” she said. “And we can get the power where it needs to go.”
West Lincoln’s mayor also questioned the location.
“Why West Lincoln? Why here?”, are two questions Joyner raised to McGuinty while in Toronto for a conference Monday. Joyner also questioned why the province was continuing to push through land wind projects, which numerous communities have supported a moratorium on, while stopping offshore projects until further studies were completed. “Why do we have a moratorium on offshore projects but continue to see in-land projects moving forward?”
Joyner also encouraged West Lincoln residents to do their homework before signing any lease agreements. “These are corporate contracts,” said Joyner, “make sure you deal with a lawyer who specializes in corporate contracts before you sign anything.”
While the province has taken control away from municipalities through the Green Energy Act, Joyner said the township would do what it can to protect the residents. He is hopeful NRWC will be willing to work with the township.
While WLWAG sees the project as a negative impact on the community, Niagara Economic Development Corp. is touting the project as being an asset for the region.
“Niagara Region stands to benefit from this project. This represents an opportunity for the Region to further define itself as a renewable energy hub and will result in significant economic benefits for the Region as a whole,” said, Valerie Kuhns, vice president market and sector development.
The company has plans to become actively involved in the community, working with the college and university. “This is a big opportunity for business development,” said Rahamim. “A chance to reinvigorate the local economies and we look forward to being an active partner in the community.”
Though currently based in Toronto, Rahamim said NRWC has plans to open a local office in the coming months.
The Smithville project is the second for West Lincoln approved under the provincial program. Last April, the province announced that the Vineland Power Inc. proposal to erect five wind turbines in the Caistor Centre area was approved under the program. Phase one of this project will see five turbines generating 10 MW of energy. Phase two will see an additional five turbines turning out power in the township.
The initial five turbines have the ability to provide enough electricity to power 2,800 homes.
The project was one of 40 approved under the FIT program, putting a total of 872 MW of green energy on the Ontario grid — 257 of which will come from solar projects with the remaining 615 coming from wind projects. Combined, these projects will generate enough energy each year to power 200,000 homes, or a community the size of Burlington.
According to the provincial government, Ontario now has more than 1,500 megawatts of wind power online generated by more than 800 wind turbines. In 2003, there were only 15 megawatts of wind power generated by 10 turbines. This is a 100-fold increase in wind power capacity.
“More and more clean energy businesses are investing in Ontario and creating jobs,” said Ontario Energy Minister Brad Duguid. “These projects create good jobs, power our homes and businesses, hospitals and schools, while cleaning up the air we breathe.”
Thursday’s announcement brings the total number of contracts awarded by the OPA under the FIT program to 1,570, representing 3,565 MW of clean, renewable energy in Ontario, the OPA said in a release.